By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rep. Mike Thompson said the public forum on gun violence prevention that he is hosting Thursday in Santa Rosa will be a wide-ranging discussion of the divisive issue rekindled by last month’s tragedy in Connecticut.
“Everything is on the table,” said Thompson, D-St. Helena, who was named chairman of a congressional task force on gun violence in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.
But Thompson, a hunter, gun owner and Vietnam combat veteran, refused to use the phrase “gun control” in an interview Friday.
The two words “create a divide that’s not bridgeable,” Thompson said, acknowledging the Second Amendment right to bear arms and saying “nobody’s going to take that right away.”
At the same time, Thompson reiterated his personal opposition to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which he has said “have no place on our streets or in our communities.”
Congressional Democrats have announced plans to push for bans on assault weapons, which are illegal in California, and magazines.
Thompson said his task force, which consists of of 12 other House Democrats, will develop legislative recommendations by the first week in February.
“The time to act is now,” he said. “The American people want something done.”
David Rabbitt, chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, acknowledged the difficulty inherent in gun control, distinguishing the weapons people need for hunting and protection from those more appropriate to warfare.
“Where you draw the line is awfully difficult,” said Rabbitt, who is one of five local officials participating in the forum.
Sheriff Steve Freitas, District Attorney Jill Ravitch, county mental health director Mike Kennedy and Superintendent of Schools Steve Herrington will also sit on the panel.
The forum will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday in the supervisors chambers at 575 Administration Drive.
Mental health services also need to be addressed in relation to gun violence, Rabbitt said, because that issue had “as much to do with (the) Sandy Hook (school shooting) as anything else.”
Ravitch said she supports Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s move to renew a federal ban on assault weapons, and the prosecutor also called for improving access to mental health care.
Most of the people coming through the courts are drug addicts, alcoholics or mentally ill, Ravitch said, calling those conditions the “root causes” of crime.
“We are not a society full of psychopaths,” she said.
Thompson described the forum as a “listening session” intended to broadly deal with reducing gun violence.
Sam Paredes, the executive director of the Folsom-based Gun Owners of California, decried the focus on gun control as a solution to violence.
“We have a people problem, not a gun problem,” he said. “We will continue to see massacres and crimes committed by evil people.”
Nearly a million new guns were purchased in California last year, adding to the 30 to 40 million firearms already in the public’s hands, he said.
More than 166,400 assault weapons were legally registered in the state, including 2,203 in Sonoma County, between 1990 and 2006, according to the California Department of Justice’s latest count.
Use of firearms in serious crimes is declining, Paredes said, citing Attorney General Kamala Harris’ “Crime in California 2011” report.
The report said the number of homicides declined by 28 percent between 2006 and 2011, while those involving firearms were down by 33 percent.
Paredes suggested the criminal justice system needs funding to keep better track of people who have been prohibited by the courts from owning guns due to “mental deficiency.”
“We need better administration of the laws we already have,” he said.
(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)